Gibraltar to Porto Santo, Madeira

Dick and Irene Craig
Mon 21 Sep 2009 12:20

Peter, a colleague from the Bridge club near our home in Spain, arrived during the morning of the 14th September. He had traveled from Javea, overnight in a coach. Peter has sailed with us before, when we brought the boat back from Israel last year, when we finished the East Mediterranean Yacht rally.

Early that same evening Philip arrived. He had traveled from Kingston, Surrey. We had met Philip in Guildford, where we were attending the ARC seminar, in March. Philip had contacted us with a view to joining our boat for the WARC.

Following introductions and a quick settling in period, we all went ashore and ate a hearty meal at one of the new restaurants within the marina complex.

We departed the marina and Gibraltar, at 8am on the 15th September as planned, way back early this year, before the sailing season began.

It was still dark when we got up and the conditions were not ideal for making passage west.

We had decided to leave at first light before the wind increased in strength. The wind was westerly but to delay meant that the wind would be much stronger on the morrow and would not be blowing from the east before Sunday.

It was hard work making our way through the straits and although we had timed our departure to benefit from a favorable current, this was not to be.

We had not been on passage for an hour before we spotted dolphins off the port hull.

We punched our way through the sea for the first three days, tacking to make any progress at all. It took all our energy to remain upright and our bodies ached from the effort.

The northward tack was extremely uncomfortable and made sleep impossible. The noise as the boat crashed from one wave to the next was deafening. We all felt sea-sick at some point although one unfortunate amongst us suffered for four days. Not that the seasickness impeded upon anything that was required to be done.

On the first day out, I fell onto one of the winches on the fly-bridge and bruised my chest and left breast.

The second day out there was a problem with the top of the mainsail so we hove to. It was a blessed relief to do so.

While we bobbed about gently, we moved the fenders, from the rail at the bow of the boat, to the stern where they would be less pounded by the wind and waves. One of the fenders had become very daring and had discarded its cover while we were on passage. This was later repaired and the fender was re-clothed.

Twice we attempted to raise Dick to the top of the mast but in the swell, it was just impossible. Although he was in a climbing harness, with a safety line to clip on as he gained height, he was all over the place. We brought him down, though he had hit his head while being thrown around, whilst aloft. We stopped the bleeding and attached a plaster to the wound, abandoning all hope of rectifying the problem with the mainsail, until the sea became calmer.

At fifteen minutes before midnight on the second night, the steering stopped working. We hove to again to investigate the problem. The bolt holding the port rudder had sheered off and it was 3.30am before we were on the move again. It was so fortunate that there were a couple of chaps on board who were able to deal with the problem otherwise we would probably have had to put out a Mayday alert.

It might have been possible to use the emergency steering equipment but an enormous task to do so for well over a hundred miles from the nearest port and the helmsman no clear view of his course or his instruments. Not only that but he would be perched precariously on the port quarter.

It took half an hour on the morning of the third day before the airlock was cleared and we were able to make water then, late afternoon, the steering stopped working so once again we hove to. Having had to make the repair the previous night, the fix took only an hour and a half. Daylight helped of course.

We now checked the connection of the steering to the rudder regularly, tightening the connection if it became loose.

Day four, the sea had become less lumpy and the wind though still westerly, was beginning to have some north in it. The passage was becoming less uncomfortable and the sun was shining.

Around 9.30 in the morning, a swallow flew around the boat for about fifteen minutes then, later in the day, another flew past us, struggling against the wind, obviously exhausted, poor thing.

The water-maker wouldn’t start initially because once again, there seemed to be an airlock causing the problem. However, we did manage to lower the mainsail and modify the block so that the main halyard no longer twisted. This had been the cause of the problem.

Saturday was cloudy all day but we were now sailing on a broad reach, or running, with the parasailor. The apparent wind registered between 3knots and 7knots.

While adjusting the parasailor, from the winch in the cockpit, I foolishly managed to get the fore-finger of my right hand, caught between the rope and the winch. I couldn’t free it at first and called for help but luckily, managed to get my finger out from between the line and the winch. It was still attached to my hand and apart from being painful and scarey, was fortunately OK.

About 19.30, I was doing a relief watch while the watch-keeper went below for supper and was delighted to see a dolphin, some 500metres or more from the port hull, jump vertically from the water. Then, having returned to the water, it jumped out in a more normal way before disappearing.

On the midnight to 3am watch, the watch-keeper was monitoring other shipping using the radar, AIS and MARPA. Suddenly there was a downpour and although  the “rain-clutter” control was activated, there was no visibility for a twelve mile stretch. Once the rain stopped it was possible to identify other vessels on the radar. Those which had already been selected for monitoring had remained visible throughout but it was a little surprising to suddenly see a new target, not a long way from our boat.

Overnight, with a sudden wind change, we had taken down the parasailor and used the mainsail and genoa. By mid morning on the sixth day, we were able to again use the parasailor.

We dropped anchor at 5.50am on Monday, 21st September, having traveled 709 nautical miles from Gibraltar. Had there been no need to tack, the distance calculated by the chart plotter would have been 575.3 nautical miles.It took us 142 hours to complete the journey to Porto Santo, the smaller of the two main islands of Madeira,  just 2 hours short of 6 days and one day longer than the 5days we had expected.


Below: 3 men in a boat. Philip forward, Peter sitting and Dick at the back

            Coping with the washing when on passage.

            The naughty re-clothed fender, reclining on the corner seat,

                                                             may be seen peeping out from beneath the washing